February 13, 2012

Historical Fiction Review: The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace
Eva Stachniak
Rating: 3

In a time when palace intrigue and gossip are as vital as food and water, a recently orphaned Barbara  becomes a ward of the Russian crown. Around the same time Barbara is taken under the wing of Chancellor Bestuzhev, Sophie princess of Zerbst arrives at the Winter Palace to be considered for the Grand Duke's fiance. Now an accomplished palace spy, Barbara is tasked with keeping an eye on Sophie for the Empress. A friendship between the two blossoms and Barbara follows Sophie on her Journey to becoming Catherine the Great. 

The Winter Palace was an enjoyable enough read with lots of lush detail and drama. I never struggled to keep myself reading throughout the course of this book which was nice. I loved Varvara, the Russian equivalent of the name Barbara, because she was one tough girl from start to finish. She never wavered even when she was forced to marry a man she did not want. She stayed strong and true to her beliefs throughout the length of the book. With so many unreliable heroines these days, this was quite a relief. The plot was enjoyable enough and kept me interested, but it just wasn't a truly great read.

I think my main problem came from the fact that I honestly don't know that much about Russia's history or monarchs. With no previous knowledge of Catherine the Great, I was looking to her to be a heroine and found she was shifty at best. When she enters the story, you want good things for her. She is young and fresh and excited by the prospect of married life. As her story progresses and the real world begins to reveal itself to her, she becomes selfish and almost silly at times. Catherine is put through a ton of bullshit on behalf of the Empress, I'll give her that, but instead of using it to become the benevolent monarch I expected, she becomes selfish and almost dangerous. I was really put off by that. I know the author cannot help history itself and I am not blaming her in any way whatsoever. I enjoyed her style and description. I guess I am disappointed in Catherine.

Recommendation: Historical Fiction fans will enjoy this engaging portrayal of Catherine the Great's rise to power through the eyes of a palace spy. However, they will probably enjoy following Varvara's story more than Catherine's. 

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